A state commission will be working to make sure that every Pennsylvanian gets counted in the 2020 Census.
The next Census will be conducted starting on April 1, 2020. Undercounting, experts warn, could cost the state big.
The state receives about $39 billion a year in federal funding based on Census population estimates, said Antoinette Kraus, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which is a member organization of the Complete Count Commission created by Gov. Tom Wolf.
“People don’t realize how much money flowing into the state is determined by the Census,” she said.
The commission held its first meeting in April and in May convened a summit with stakeholders to make the case for the importance of making sure all Pennsylvanians are counted in the Census, said Norman Bristol-Colon, executive director of the Complete Counts Commission.
“An undercount would have a lasting impact on the commonwealth,” Bristol-Colon said.
The commission voted to ask the Legislature to provide it with $1 per Pennsylvania resident — about $12.8 million to organize and inform the public about the need to participate in the Census, Bristol-Colon said.
One of the big issues is that the 2020 Census will lean more heavily on technology than previous counts, he said. That creates concern that hard-to-count populations will be missed and it also raises the specter that people who live in rural Pennsylvania, where there is little or no high-speed internet, may be undercounted, Bristol-Colon said.
As a result, the state will be looking to the network of public libraries and institutions of higher learning to help make sure that people participate in the Census, he said.
Under the Census Bureau’s plans for 2020, 80 percent of households will receive an invitation to submit their responses over the Internet, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School. The Census Bureau will mail paper questionnaires to the remaining 20 percent of households, targeting those with limited internet access or large older-adult populations. Questionnaires will also be mailed to those households that do not respond online. If households still do not respond, the Bureau will send census field workers, known as enumerators, door-to-door to collect their data using mobile devices and tablets, according to the Brennan Center.
Kraus said her organization is particularly interested in the issue because 55 percent of funding that comes as a result of the count is directed toward health care.
The Census also plays a role in other safety net programs, as well as education and infrastructure funding, according to an analysis by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy.
Kraus said that in previous Census counts, other states, including California, have invested state dollars to ensure that as many residents are counted as possible.
The almost $13 million requested state spending “is a small investment” considering the amount of money at stake, Kraus said.
Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said that there is a general recognition of the importance of getting an accurate count and its impact on important programs. But he said he couldn’t say whether the Legislature will provide the full amount sought by the commission.
“I can’t commit at this time to just how much funding the commission will receive,” he said. “As members get into the June budget process, we will see how much support there is for the level of funding the commission is requesting.”
Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, offered no commitment either.
“We have not taken a position on it. Everything remains on the table as part of the budget process,” she said.
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf said the governor supports the commission’s funding request, calling it "a relatively modest investment that would pay long-term dividends in return.”